Should Children Drink Milk?

by Annemarie Colbin
posted with permission

Evie (4 yrs old), of the book, Evie's Kitchen, gets some great milk made just for her.

Should children drink milk?

The answer depends on two things: which children, what kind of milk. For children drinking their mother's milk, the answer, universally and unequivocally, is yes. For any age, whether or not children should drink cow's milk depends on the culture, the family, and the child. And in our society, more often than not, the answer is no.

The Physicians Committee on Responsible Medicine, headed by Dr. Neil Barnard, cautions against the near universal custom of giving children pasteurized homogenized cow's milk, as it is associated with juvenile diabetes, allergies, and mucus conditions. Frank Oski, MD, a member of that group and the author of Don't Drink Your Milk, points out that many cultures normally lose the lactase enzyme that helps digest lactose, or milk sugar, around the age of weaning. Therefore, people of Asian, African, Malay, Filipino, and Native American descent are often lactose intolerant and respond to milk products with digestive distress.

What is the role of milk?

As you know, the females of the mammalian species produce it to feed their newborns until the young ones can eat regular food. Thus milk is the perfect food for infants. With all mammals, the infants are weaned at the appropriate age and never again partake of milk. The exceptions are certain groups of humans, such as Hindus, Europeans, and their American descendants, who consume the milk of cows or other animals throughout their lives. A sizable majority of traditional cultures in the world do not drink milk, including most Asian and African populations. Europeans brought the consumption of milk and its derivatives (cheese, yogurt, ice cream, and the skim products) to the US; here, this dietary custom has been relentlessly promoted by the dairy industry, whose influence has reached the entire nutrition education establishment as well as the government. As a result, peoples whose tradition does not include milk have been using it, with the predictable result of an increase of the diseases of "civilization," such as heart disease, obesity, and diabetes.

What about children?

Isn't milk the most nutritious food for them? The fact is that milk is a whole food: it is designed to nourish an infant/baby calf completely until the infant is ready to partake of other nourishment. Therefore, technically nothing else is needed in the diet when mother's milk is consumed. Obviously, we cannot feed growing children nothing but milk; yet adding cow's milk to an otherwise well-balanced diet simply overloads the meal. As a result, children who drink milk, or eat cheeses and ice cream, often do not have much of an appetite for other foods. Many parents complain that their children will not eat vegetables, so they at least try to get them to drink milk or eat ice cream. But children do not like vegetables because they eat dairy foods. They are actually making a very reasonable nutritional choice, because milk is vegetables that went through the cow, so why should they eat them twice? I have found that children who do not consume milk products generally eat vegetables with gusto.

What are some of the problems with milk?

Production: Most milk nowadays is extracted from cows that are kept producing milk with the help of hormones, long after they need it for their calves. The cows are fed commercially created feeds that may include hay, grain, cardboard, and wood shavings; they are regularly plied with antibiotics; and they are often sick and below par. The injection of genetically engineered (recombinant) Bovine Growth Hormone (rbgh) into dairy cows promises to increase milk production from 15 to 25 percent. This is good for the farmers but bad for the drugged cows, which are more prone to infections when under that drug. These infections are then treated with large amounts of antibiotics, which then find their way into the milk. We don't know yet if milk from cows treated with rbgh is good for people, but surely it won't be any better than it is now. Do we really need more milk production when there already is a surplus?

Processing: Milk is naturally sterile when it comes out of the nipple, but as soon as it comes in contact with the air, bacteria begin to grow rapidly. Cow's milk is pasteurized, a process that kills the bacteria present up to that point; what most of us forget is that all those dead bacteria are still floating in the milk. New live bacteria continue to proliferate shortly afterwards.

Pasteurization also destroys up to 50 percent of the vitamin C present in the milk. Homogenization breaks up the milk fat globules so that the fat mixes throughout; this process has been associated with hardening of the arteries, a problem that in some cases begins at birth. The addition of vitamins A and D can cause the problems associated with hypervitaminosis; it is well known that these two fat soluble vitamins produce toxic reactions when used in excess. In fact, vitamin D promotes calcification and in milk it may cause serious damage to the kidneys. There have been hundreds of scientific papers showing the damaging effects of added vitamin D; among these effects are kidney stones and urinary calculi, hypercholesterolemia, and damage to the eyes.

Idiopathic hypercalcemia of infants-a condition that emerged in the 1950s after milk began to be fortified with irradiated ergosterol-is characterized by extremely high levels of blood calcium, often accompanied by increased levels of cholesterol in the blood. Its consequences may be severe mental retardation due to abnormal development of the bones of the head and face; irreversible damage to the heart and circulatory system due to deposition of bone matter in these tissues; and generalized arteriosclerosis of infancy, which may result in mild or severe mental retardation later in life. There is evidence that this condition may develop in utero because of maternal supplementation with D2.

All these problems have been recognized for years, yet we keep plying our children with this substance in a food that naturally does not have it in such large quantities. A study in the New England Journal of Medicine investigating eight cases of vitamin D intoxication in children studied the milk from one dairy and found that the amount of vitamin D in the milk there varied "from undetectable to 232,565 IU per quart." The RDA is 400 IU per day, which is the amount allowed per quart. Another study in the same issue of that journal found that seven of ten samples of infant formula contained more than 200 percent of the amount of added vitamin D stated on the label; the sample with the highest concentration contained 419 percent of the labeled amount.

Health conditions and effects: Allergies to milk and its products are extremely common and result often in fatigue or behavioral problems. Dairy consumption is related to runny noses, frequent colds, bronchitis, ear infections, being overweight, digestive distress, intestinal upsets, and skin outbreaks. In addition, it worsens asthma and breathing disorders. The culprit is not the fat but the protein, so low-fat or skim products are not any better. In fact, a higher content of butterfat in the diet may be helpful for children with neurological problems (as the 80 percent fat ketogenic diet is helpful for those with seizures). Where, then, do we get our calcium? The answer to that question is quite simple: from the same place that cows, horses, and elephants get theirs-the vegetable kingdom. Leafy and dark green vegetables are an excellent source, and we don't have to eat the amounts suggested by the RDA's; the World Health Organization finds that most populations on calcium levels as low as 400 mg per day have no calcium deficiencies, as long as they get it from natural animal and vegetable sources. Other dietary sources of calcium, as well as additional minerals, include beans, nuts, sea vegetables, and sesame seeds. For those who are not vegetarians, calcium is found in whole fish with bones such as sardines and smelts, and soft shell crabs; stock made with bones and a bit of vinegar or wine, which draws the calcium out of the bones into the stock, is an excellent and very traditional source of calcium and other minerals.

Thus, for good nutrition without milk products put some fresh chopped parsley on one dish per meal; always have something dark green, including broccoli, kale, mustard greens, collards, arugula, or watercress; use beans regularly; use chicken, beef, or fish bones to make stocks; eat the bones of fish such as sardines, canned salmon, and fresh anchovies; give older kids crisp, well-cooked chicken bones to chew on; add sea vegetables, like kombu, to soup or stock; and sprinkle roasted and ground sesame seeds on your rice or barley, a condiment that is a superior calcium source. Let your kids snack on it anytime they want.


1 ounce dry wakame seaweed, baked at 350 degrees for 10 minutes
1 cup toasted unhulled sesame seeds

Grind the wakame in a mortar or bowl until powdered; discard the tough inner ribs. Measure out 2 tablespoons. In a suribachi or mortar, grind the sesame seeds a bit, add the wakame, and continue grinding by hand until well mixed. Use as a condiment or snack.

Annemarie Colbin, MA, CCP, CHES, is the founder of the Natural Gourmet Cookery School/Institute for Food and Health in New York City. She is a columnist for Free Spirit Magazine and the author of the books:


  1. Thank you for posting this! I am looked at weirdly when I answer milk questions. My daughter will not be drinking cows milk once weaned. We are the only mammal who continues milk after weaning.

    Also thank you about the veggie information it does make sense as well.

  2. Very thought-provoking indeed. We also have been asked similar questions about whether we will transition our child to cow's milk as well. The power of marketing, and the government is amazing. PBS had a special recently about milk, and mentioned President Nixon's agenda to push towards the commericialization of milk too, I think the title was "Milk". Thanks for the good read! :)

  3. We do drink milk in our family. It is raw milk from our own family cow. :-) I don't find my kids choose milk over veggies. Everything is well balanced in their diets. I don't think milk is taking away from the fruits and veggie or any other healthy food, but snacks and sweet that take away the appetite. Just my thoughts.....

  4. As a half-filipino with dairy sensitivity, thank you very much for getting this info out there to others who might not recognize how their dairy choices are impacting their health.

    When people mention lactose problems or dairy allergies, the general image is of a wheezing kid broken out in hives or someone with diarrhea. Cow products can be much more subtle than that. I challenge anyone to eliminate dairy, ALL DAIRY, from their diet for 4 weeks and see what happens. And good luck with the first 2 weeks. You might think you are dying as your body attempts to detox all the crap and restore health.

    I wish parents knew that cow's milk is a poor health and nutritional substitute to continued, normative nursing. And that after weaning, the child should be able to consume wholesome, healthy foods to the point of not needing a liquid substitute. Some flaxseed mixed into a fruit smoothie provides a lot more nutriton and essential fatty acids than any cow's milk can.

    Cows have four stomachs, not four brains after all.

  5. Well...maybe other mammals WOULD consume dairy products if they knew how amazing cheese was...just sayin! I am planning on trying coconut milk with DS whenever he weans or is ready to drink from a cup. :)

  6. I agree oursentiments.

    The family Q, Coconut milk is fairly watery, we use it in cooking but not as a drink. My daughter is breastfed and doesnt drink cows' milk (she's 3 and a half), instead she has rice milk/oat milk/soya milk etc on cereal or to make a milkshake. Also try Almond milk or hazelnut milk. Most health food shops sell alternative non-dairy milk in cartons, and our local shop sells organic unsweetened Soya milk :)

    We try to avoid dairy, don't buy yoghurts, buy organic milk but only use it in cups of tea or on my eldest's cereal, we even buy tubs of non dairy ice cream. We buy organic cheese, but tbh I'm not that keen on cheese, I like it on pizza or jacket potatoes, but I dont eat it very often, and could live without it.
    I'm aiming to be dairy free, wish the rest of the country was though... as a vegetarian it is almost impossible to find a meat-free meal that isn't full of cheese if eating out.

  7. I suppose this is always a sensitive topic, but mine never have and they are extremely healthy with astonishingly smooth skin.

  8. My youngest has never had any milk products, he is the only one of my 4 children that has not suffered asthma, eczema or both.

  9. Our 2 year old has yet to touch cow's milk and it's his own choice to do so/not do so when he is older, but a milk made specifically for another furry four-legged animal's baby with ENTIRELY different needs than our own isn't something we ever *need* to consume and would likely be much better off without.

    Like the comic at the end of the post ;)

  10. To those talking about their non-dairy drinks and ice cream... just please be careful about soy! Make sure you do your research about the health problems from non-fermented soy products (it's an estrogen imitator) before ingesting too much of it... and most of us already ingest too much just from what's added to processed foods, without even having soy products "on purpose"!

    I use cow's milk (whole and organic, though not raw because we can't get it here) for cooking, and that's about it. We do eat cheese, yogurt, sour cream, butter, and other "dairy products" but I limit the milk we actually DRINK. Milk that has been "digested" is not so grievous for our health.

    When we want 'milk' to drink, or for cereal or oatmeal, we use vanilla sweetened almond milk. Yummy (we find rice milk bland and grainy), full of protein, and no fake estrogen.

  11. For Anon, there is a gigantic difference between fresh raw milk from a family cow, which IS a very safe and healthy food for humans, and processed, ultra-pasteurized, homogenized store milk laden with chemicals, pesticides, and growth hormones, which IS poisonous. Unfortunately, very few have access to raw milk. We are much better off avoiding milk unless it is raw.

  12. WOW. That was an extremely thought-provoking post. I have never thought about drinking milk in those terms before, but it sure makes sense. Thanks for the info!

  13. Please keep in mind that dairy alternatives such as soy and hemp milk may not be the healthy alternatives you think they are ... this article is from the weston price foundation , who are advocates of raw dairy only... They bring up some very interesting points on the potential dangers of soy which is really high in phytic acid. Worth a look anyway We have stopped drinking milk, but do eat yogurt and kefir, as our naturopath suggested they are easier to digest due to the good bacteria present- anyone have any thoughts on this??

    Bone broth is a great way to go- a bit time consuming , but worth it - I make chicken stock every week :)

  14. Human milk, and I assume the milk of other mammals, is not sterile. It contains a variety of beneficial bacteria (i.e., probiotics) and other living cells. Many commercial probiotics are strains that were originally isolated in human milk.

  15. What about raw milk from Henry's? is this truly "raw"? I've heard that the almond industry passes off almonds as "raw" by cooking them just under the legal limit and then selling them under the label "raw". Is it the same for the raw milk industry?

  16. motherbynature,

    There are even more dangers to soy products as well. In addition to the hormonal impacts, it also denatured the hemoglobin in your blood, causing difficulties in transporting oxygen (this is true of all legumes, not just soy). There is an enzyme in blood, called G6PD, that reverses this process, but it is good to limit quantities. Legumes are also inflammatory.

    There are also many people who are G6PD deficient and unaware. I was identified as such about a year and a half ago, and have struggled to cut legumes from my diet ever since. This is almost impossible, as almost all packages foods are made with soy or peanut products, and often both, but my health payoff has been worth the trouble.

  17. My daughter (2 years old) drinks milk, as do i, and we both eat LOADS of vegetables and enjoy them too. Her most favourite thing for lunch or dinner is a huge bowl of assorted vegetables especially if a large portion of them happen to be broccoli.

  18. I limit my daughters dairy intake. I see it as just another form of junk food. She is still able to have yogurt and icecream at other peoples houses cause I don't have it in my fridge. She doesnt really like cheese and only drinks a small amount of milk sometimes. I NEVER let her have it if she looks like she is getting sick (and therefore very rarely gets sick).
    She has always liked lots of fruits and veges and I totally think that if your kids are fussy NEVER offer them dairy, biscuits, crackers etc to fill up on at an early age. Its always been breastmilk, fruit, veges and meat/eggs at our house before you ever get to try anything else.
    Also I have met a lot of kids and adults who have nightmares after eating dairy products. So try cutting out dairy in the afternoons if this is a problem in your family.

  19. Wonderful post! My mother breastfed me until I was 4 1/2, and I never had cow's milk until I was 8 or 9 years old. She didn't believe in cow's milk either for babies at a young age, and I'm glad she didn't.. I think I will do the same with my little ones.



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